Whenever we mentioned to our friends, family or even random strangers that we were embarking on a long haul flight with our children, the collective response was usually horror and disbelief. ‘How will they cope? – how will you cope?!’
Thankfully, my husband and I had absolute faith in our kid’s ability to cope (and it didn’t hurt that we had a few little tricks up our sleeves)…
Pack an activity rucksack for the flight.
This may seem obvious, but I was surprised to see how many parents left themselves at the mercy of the free activity sets handed out by airlines. Whilst these can be good, they possibly won’t be enough to maintain your child’s attention for any longer than 30 minutes. Emirates gave out little animal snuggle blankets, which whilst adorable, are of no great help unless you want to wrap one around your head and pretend the screaming child isn’t yours.
I filled a rucksack for each of my children with brand new activities they had never seen before. These weren’t expensive. I shopped in places such as Tiger, The Works, Amazon etc. I included items such as:
- Sticker activity books
- Colouring pencils (think pens – think graffiti on airline seats!)
- Note pads
- Colouring books
- Top Trumps
- Magnetic Travel Games
- Story books
There are some great ranges of travel activities out there. I can recommend the Melissa & Doug range of ‘On the Go’ activity packs. My son loved the Spy Mystery Secret Decoder book. You should also check out Smart Games: Magnetic Travel Games (available from Amazon with the links above).
Regardless of how long the flight is, this is something I have been doing on every flight with my children. As they have grown, I have adapted the type of items I put into the bags. The trick is to drip feed them each new activity, so that they have something new to discover throughout the length of the flight.
An added bonus is that you have these activities with you for the entire holiday, which is great to keep them occupied at other points during your break, such as transfers, coach trips, restaurants etc.
Pack a change of clothes
Accidents happen, be prepared with a change of clothing for your child. Our first ever long haul flight involved our son spilling a glass of orange juice all over his clothes (wet wipes come in handy here too.)
Absolutely critical to bring on board are any teddies/snugglies that your child is comforted by. Guard them with your life!
If you’re catching a night flight, you might want to consider a pair of PJ’s to make them feel more comfortable and ready to sleep! Make sure you have included socks to keep those little toes warm.
On-board plane temperatures can be unpredictable, so it is best to dress your child in layers that can be removed or added to as required. This will also prove helpful if you are taking off from somewhere extremely cold and arriving somewhere nice and hot (or vice versa).
Unless you’re in Business or First, I would recommend bringing a neck pillow for each of your children. The pillows provided by airlines can be paper-thin and aren’t really of any use for helping to get your child comfortable.
Don’t forget the Calpol!
Let me be clear, I am NOT advocating you sedate your child. There are a lot of parents who do offer this advice, but I am not one of them. However, it is really sensible to have some medicine to hand just in case it is required. Calpol and Nurofen are both available in sachet form and popping a few sachets into your hand luggage will cover you should your child start to feel unwell on the flight.
Preload shows on to your electronic devices
If you are long haul, it is very likely that in-flight movies, TV shows and potentially even computer games will be available. However, I would recommend making sure you’ve downloaded a selection of your child’s favourite TV shows onto your electronic devices (especially for younger children). We use BBC iPlayer Kids and Sky Go. This way you know that you’ve got something they will enjoy watching. Speaking of electronic devices….
Remember to keep your charging cables in your hand luggage
Explains itself really doesn’t it?
Or, if in doubt that in-seat charging points will be available, carry a Power Bank in your hand luggage.
Relax the rules
When I say rules, I specifically mean rules relating to amount of screen time your child is allowed and the use of less-healthy food as a bribe. You are on holiday, you are asking a small child to stay in a confined space for a long period of time, make it as attractive to them as possible. I am not ashamed to say I allowed my son to watch back to back movies, plus iPad time whilst drip feeding him Skittles on our last flight. Relaxed child/ren = Relaxed parent/s.
Arm yourself with games for younger children
For children that are too young to spend the length of the flight eyes glued to the screen, have some games ready.
One possibility is to create ‘plane bingo’ sheets, with images of things for your child to look and find whilst on the plane. Additionally an easy game of ‘I went on holiday and packed in my suitcase a…’ taking it in turns to add items to the suitcase and remembering the previous items too, seems to keep them occupied.
Usborne’s 50 Things to do on a plane activity cards around £6 from Amazon, also include some great ideas to engage the younger ones.
Be prepared for the ear pops!
When the children were really young, we would give them their milk bottle during take off and landing. Now they are older, we make sure that we have some boiled sweets to hand for them to suck on and reduce the risk of their ears popping.
If your child is a ‘snacker’ make sure you pick up snacks for the flight, we have waited up to two hours on a flight for a meal and so it helps to have something to sustain them. Plus if there is a chance your child won’t like the food, you have an alternative to offer. We also stock up on bottled water before the flight. You can call for Cabin Crew to bring you water, but often on a long haul we have had to wait and I can’t stress enough about how important it is to keep your children hydrated on a long haul flight.
Engage your children in the experience.
As with any new experience it never hurts to engage your child in advance. Role play is a great way to outline the experience, making tickets and passports, packing bags, checking them in, clearing security, boarding the plane, taking off, experiencing turbulence, landing, etc.
When they are actually at the airport they will have some understanding of what is happening and what is expected of them. It helps to take anxiety away.
Don’t forget the praise
Whenever your child is exhibiting good behaviour, showing patience and coping well with the disruption to their normal routine – remember to praise them! If they feel that acting like a superstar is gaining good attention and reward from their loved ones, it will encourage them to continue throughout the flight.
I would love to hear any of your top tips and wherever you’re jetting off to – Happy Travels!